Retro Review: Chrono Trigger (PC)

Chronotrigger is a classic JRPG that is almost universally held up as an exemplar of the best of the genre and playing it all these years later proves that to be true. The graphics may be old fashioned but the story and the mechanics push you forward and rewards you with a fun and interesting game and one that any fan of the genre or anyone who’s ever wanted to try the genre should play.

A Flawed Port of a Perfect JRPG

In case you have just woken from a year long coma, we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and as a result game development project timelines have had to shift resulting in a slew of delays. So while you may have your shiny new Xbox Series or PS5 console or even a new PC with a RTX 30 or Radeon 6000 series GPU you don’t have many brand-new purpose-built games to play on them. Luckily, we all have an insane backlog of games, more popularly known as the “Pile ‘O Shame” to dive into.

One of mine happens to be the classic SNES JRPG Chrono Trigger, a game I have played but only via SNES emulator and then only about halfway through many years ago. Luckily, you do not have to find a working SNES and cartridge, or a working PS1 and disc, for the re-release as Square ported the game to PC and released it on Steam a few years back.

This port happens to be the port of the PS1 version complete with a couple of Anime style cutscenes that took advantage of the PS1’s gigantic CD storage solutions. It also has some quality-of-life improvements like the bookmark feature, though not quite the same as a save state feature obtained from emulation but close enough. Thankfully, this means that you do not have to worry about finding save points when you need a break, you can just use the bookmark. Just be careful though, the bookmark is only available through the resume command and if you load a proper save you will overwrite that bookmark if I understand the onscreen warning correctly.

The second quality of life improvement is that the game displays in full aspect ratio on PC, so if you hook a PC up to your TV you will use the full screen instead of being locked to a 4:3 aspect ratio, something that is currently frustrating me to no end with Final Fantasy IX on the Xbox Series X and GamePass. Graphically the game has been spruced up, it is still the 16bit sprites that you remember just remastered at a higher resolution. The game looks magnificent with characters distinctive and colourful. Enemies are easily distinguishable on screen making it extremely easy to deal with them in battle. The menus are the same ones you remember from the SNES and I have found that occasionally they do get in the way onscreen with the menu overlaying the action obscuring characters as well as the onscreen cursor.

In addition to some issues with the menus, the game does suffer from stutters indicative of dropped frames as well as long, well at least for a decades old remaster, load times between dungeons and stages. Given how old the game is and the fact that it is capable of running on the equivalent of potato (Core i3 and Intel HD integrated graphics are the required minimum specs), the performance issues are disappointing. Though not unexpected given the fact that ports of other Square games to PC have been flagged as low effort.

Mechanically the port of the remaster has not changed a thing. The game is still a turn based JRPG, thank goodness. None of this Final Fantasy VII Remake nonsense of changing everything about the original game except the name. Using the ATB system means that you do not have forever to make decisions, but what was innovative for the time are the combo Tech powers. If you time it right or are just patient and willing to maybe take a couple of extra hits, having two characters with full ATB bars means that you can access some powerful attacks and buffs when two characters combine their powers. It adds an extra strategic element to the battles and has you doing risk/reward calculations in each battle as you weigh up waiting to unleash these powerful attacks against the enemies against chipping away at larger enemy parties and health bars.

Oddly for a JRPG designed and developed in early ‘90s the game does not rely on the grind to create a challenge for the player, in fact the game may be a tad too easy at times, but thankfully there aren’t stupid boss difficulty spikes to make up for the easy random encounters. That is not to say that the battles are not challenging, especially boss battles. It is just that the game relies more on either overwhelming you with several weaker foes or bosses with remarkably high HP bars. This itself is a design flaw but one that is preferable to the usual grind that JRPGs tend to rely on. Just play some Bravely Default 2 and you will see what I mean.

As with other games in the genre, your party is limited to 3 characters at a time even though you will have a pool of to choose from. This creates a new tension for the player to contend with as you cannot swap characters out during a dungeon crawl and without a guide you do feel like you are gambling as the characters you choose may not be the best ones to tackle that level. That may have been intentional, a way to increase the difficulty of the game, but it works as if there was ever a real-life situation where you had to tackle a dungeon since you would not know beforehand what set of skills you would need.

A retro review of a classic JRPG would not be complete without mention of the soundtrack. While having silent characters today seems archaic, even for a port of a remaster released at least twenty years ago, it does not detract from the experience due to the amazing soundtrack. As nuanced and interesting today as it was when the game first released, the soundtrack perfectly captures the mood of each scene and conveys the action in the way only a good soundtrack can. With the wrong music this game would have faded into obscurity decades ago.

The story eschews the usual tropes of a Chosen One destined for greatness. Chrono is just some guy who happens to get pulled into this adventure by circumstance and a science experiment gone wrong. He sets out to make things right and to do so has to travel through time to various ages in his world’s history. It’s reminiscent of Back to the Future in that much of his world’s history happens to have been influenced and directly affected by his and his team mate’s actions. 

This time travel mechanic also opens up something that I think was quite new for JRPGs at the time – the New Game+ mechanic and branching, alternate endings. Your first playthrough gets you to a satisfying conclusion to Chrono’s story, but playing it again in New Game+ mode opens up newer, not always more interesting, but at least additional entertaining story beats and endings. I haven’t completed my NG+ playthrough just yet, but can say that this is one of the few games where I can recommend playing through things again to see what the changes are.

Chronotrigger is a classic JRPG that is almost universally held up as an exemplar of the best of the genre and playing it all these years later proves that to be true. The graphics may be old fashioned but the story and the mechanics push you forward and rewards you with a fun and interesting game and one that any fan of the genre or anyone who’s ever wanted to try the genre should play.

9/10
Total Score
  • Gameplay
    9/10 Amazing
  • Soundtrack
    9/10 Amazing
  • Graphics
    8/10 Very Good
  • Ease of Play
    8/10 Very Good

Pros

  • A classic game.
  • Runs at full resolution on PC.
  • Bookmark function to save your progress.
  • Amazing soundtrack

Cons

  • Some performance issues.
  • Bookmark function is not a proper save anywhere/anytime function.
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